1: Are there ANY OTHER METHODS BESIDES pitot tubes to gather airspeed data?
There probably are some really sophisticated ring-laser comparison mechanisms that cost a bazillion bucks, but nothing that I know of is going to get you the information you need any better, any more consistently, or reliably than a heated/protected pitot/static system.2: How often are commercial pilots required to undergo re-certification.
It generally depends on what section of the rule you operate under. For example under part 121 (airline operating rules) Captains get a check ride or training every 6 months and first officers get a check ride or training every 12 months. However, there is an area that some airlines train under, called the Advanced Qualification Program, where Captains and First Officers get training and
an evaluation once every 12 months.3: What does the re-certification entail?
The training part is just that, training. First is ground training - where you review all the subjects you had when you first came aboard - airplane systems, regulations, weather, ATC procedures, and the like, and then you take an oral exam or a written test. Then, if you fly an airplane that has a simulator, you get a chance to review all the tasks that you are expected to fly (takeoffs, approaches, and landings, etc.) and even some of the more complicated tasks, like recoveries from approaches to stall and recoveries from an inadvertent upset, recoveries from windshear encounters, etc. ... and, the check ride is essentially the same thing, except that the really esoteric bits (upset recoveries and windshear recoveries) are not part of the check, and a check airman watches and grades your performance. If you don't have a simulator, then you get to do the training and/or the check ride in the airplane. Goody Goody some might say ... but doing some of the things in the airplane (like engine failures on takeoff or engine out landings or go-arounds) sometimes get a bit dicey. The ground school normally takes anywhere from a day to 3 days and the simulator is usually a 4-hour period, and like I say, sometimes there are both training and check - that is usually one-a-day and each is about 4 hours long. The airplane might take 45 minutes to 1.5 hours - depending on a lot of things.And lastly, what are your opinions on the increased automation of todays commercial airliners?
Automation is a wonderful thing. And it is getting better and better - as are the airplanes themselves. In fact, the automation is so good that some airlines require the crew to engage the autopilot just after takeoff and they don't disconnect the autopilot until on relatively short final - unless they're in a condition that may require an automatic landing. The automatic systems work pretty well ... when they work. But they are computers. Computers ARE getting better. The computer you use now is probably a lot better than the first computer you used. But, does your computer ever make mistakes? Well, automation on the flight deck isn't as prone to errors as MSWord, and airplanes have an unbelievable backup routine - and backups for the backups. But ... there is a growing concern that some pilots may be losing some of their skilll sets to manually fly the airplane. Recall the "miracle on the Hudson?" That was a manually flown airplane. The computers took a hike when the electricity stopped (well, it didn't stop completely, so there was still some computer inputs - but in this particular case it was probably more detrimental than helpful - but that is a whole other story). Suffice it to say that flight deck automation is a good thing - but it should be used by the pilot to control the airplane, with the pilot directly and integreally involved in what the computer is doing to the airplane. All of us are guilty to some degree in turning on "George," and then get involved in something else. BUT, that is a bad practice and should be avoided if at all possible. Again, it's only my opinion, but it IS my opinion, that the pilot should be flying the airplane at all times - and he/she can use the manual controls or the automatic controls - and should be equally conversant with each and able to use both equally well.